Thursday, December 22, 2011

It Takes Religion to Make Good People Do Evil Things

I read this story this evening about a man who attempted to circumcize his four-year old son on the kitchen floor for religious reasons (to get "right" with God). Apparently the unnamed child was born premature and circumcision was not possible at birth. Once the boy was four years old his father decided it was time to cut off a chunk of his genitalia, against his will. The poor boy was not admitted to hospital for another four days following the trauma. Can you imagine how awful those four days would be for that young boy?

I have to say, this story actually made me feel sick and heart-broken at the same time. I would hope that most people who have children of their own (and even those who don't) are appalled at the thought of taking a knife to the private parts of their four-year old son. Sometimes changing a diaper on a child is a huge battle of wills. Often getting them into the bath requires some significant coaxing. But can you imagine how hard your child would be screaming and kicking and writhing if you pinned him down on the kitchen floor and took a knife to the most sensitive skin on his body? Can you imagine the fear and life-long trauma that would result from seeing your own father, who is supposed to be your primary protection as a child, looking down on you with a grim determination on his face as he hacked away with a knife? Can you imagine?

This story is truly sickening, and I don't imagine there are too many readers who would empathize with the father. But, I don't really see any significant difference in circumcision of any kind. It is genital mutilation that has become culturally acceptable. Anytime I have had a discussion about circumcision, either online or in person, there seems to be a mix of opinions for and against it. Amazingly there are still people who think that it is healthier to chop off a piece of a young boy's penis. There are claims that it prevents foreskin cancer. Well, no kidding. By definition it is impossible to have cancer of a tissue that doesn't exist. But how many men have you met who have had foreskin or even penile cancer? There are claims that it helps prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Wear a condom. There are claims that it helps keep the penis cleaner. Take a bath. There is no valid medical reason for circumcision of a healthy foreskin. Most medical associations now recognize this.

There are many, many good reasons NOT to circumcise a young boy. Firstly, the foreskin includes the most sensitive (i.e. pleasurable) part of the penis. Any man who has been circumcized as a boy has missed out on significant sexual pleasure. There's simply no way around that fact. The parallel situation in females is to cut off the clitoris. Any woman who has had her clitoris removed at birth has missed out on significant sexual pleasure. That is not to say that a woman cannot have sexual pleasure without a clitoris, nor to say that a man cannot have sexual pleasure without a foreskin. But there is without question something missing.

Another good reason NOT to circumcise a young boy is that he has no choice or say in the matter. Let a man decide, when he becomes an adult, whether he wants to lose part of his penis for religious reasons or for any other reason.

If it weren't for religion, it is unlikely that circumcision would have ever gotten off the ground. Traditionally it was mostly the Jews who circumsized their young sons, but of course in North America the practice became popularized in the 20th Century due to faulty medical beliefs that it was healthier. Given the nature of our society these days, in which lawsuits seem to ever push the boundaries of personal freedoms and also of accountability and liability, I think it is a matter of time until an adult male sues his parents for having circumcized him as a child. I say the sooner the better. I suspect we are still in a time when most courts would not find in favour of such a plaintiff, but I think that may change. Freedom of religion will undoubtedly be used as a defense if such a case comes along, but it should not be a valid defense. Freedom of religion should only be a viable defense if it refers to the person themselves. I should not be able to claim freedom of religion if my actions are taken against another person, even if they happen to be my son or daughter.

I feel sorry for those little boys who are still subjected to the Bronze Aged barbarism of genital mutilation. I was shocked this past summer when Russell Crowe was ostracized for speaking out against circumcisions and calling it for what it is: both barbaric and stupid.

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